Burlington, Vermont -- March 5, 2007
Vermont's only condemned killer is scheduled to begin the appeals of his conviction this month and they could include one issue that has put the death penalty on hold in a growing number of states.
Almost all the states that have a death penalty use lethal injection. It is considered to be more humane than the electric chair. But some of those states have suspended lethal injections because they are considered cruel by a variety of groups. The issue is being closely watched by Donald Fell and the family that is waiting to watch him die.
"Front row. Front row," said Terri King's sisters and daughters who plan to be in the front row when Donald Fell is executed. And they can't wait.
"And as long as we have to wait to keep pushing and pushing and pushing for that man to be executed , we will do just that," said Barbara Tuttle, one of Terri King's two sisters.
Six and half years ago Fell and Bobby Lee murdered Terri King. They car-jacked her in Rutland and drove to New York.
They killed her by beating her to death as she prayed for mercy.
Lee hanged himself in prison.
Fell was tried in Vermont under federal law because he crossed state lines to commit the murder.
Today Fell sits on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, less than 30 feet from the death chamber where he may someday be executed.
But lethal injection is now being successfully challenged by death penalty opponents. They claim it violates the constitution because it is cruel and inhumane.
"There have been some cases where people who have been injected, have been burned by the chemicals. There are cases in which the chemicals haven't worked as they were intended to work," said Prof. Cheryl Hanna who teaches at the Vermont Law School.
Thirty-eight states have a death penalty. Over the last eighteen months eleven of them have imposed a death penalty moratorium because of the lethal injection problems.
Indiana has not yet imposed a moratorium. But it could, and Terri King's family is outraged just by the possibility. They say the claims about "inhumane and cruel" are completely bogus.
"There are literally hundreds of thousands of people in the United States that are operated on a daily basis that go into surgery. They're put to sleep, and they wake up not feeling a thing," said Barbara Tuttle.
That's true. But the American Medical Association prohibits doctors from taking part in executions.
Terri King's family says fine: let medical technicians or veterinarians do it.
"So you can't tell me that there isn't a way to execute by lethal injection an individual and have it painless," said Tuttle.
"It's probably likely that Fell will in fact ultimately receive the death penalty, in other words he'll be put to death," explained Prof. Hanna.
Cheryl Hanna predicts the courts will decide someday that lethal injection CAN be imposed in a humane way but it may not be soon, especially for Donald Fell whose execution will come only after a lengthy appeals process.
"We've got a number of steps of appeals and it probably won't be until very close to his execution date in which he may in fact raise the question of the method of execution," explained Hanna.
Nearly nine months after Fell was sentenced to death his appeal process has still not started. His lawyers were scheduled to submit his appeal issues this week, but they have instead requested at least another week to file them.
Prof. Hanna says she will be surprised if the lethal injection issue is included in the first round of appeal issues. But at some point she expects Fell will raise the issue.
Brian Joyce - Channel 3 News